BYU student shares struggles and joys of music education major

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Carsten House is a senior in instrumental music education. The path has not been an easy one, but it brings him joy. (Alyssa Regis)

When Carsten House meets someone new and tells them about his music education major, he often gets a joke in response: “Oh, so you plan on being poor for the rest of your life.”

Although the comments are usually made in sarcasm and humor, House said people rarely ask him, honestly, why he chose his major.

“I didn’t choose the major,” House said. “The major chose me, I guess.”

However, House said it was still a very conscious decision, one that came with a plethora of stereotypes and doubts to overcome.

“More often than not, one of the next questions that is asked is related to how I will provide for my family later in life,” House said.

House is a senior in music education. His “weapon of choice” is the French horn, and he is currently doing his student teaching at Lehi High School.

House said his major is something he loves but often has to contend with, fighting stereotypes like being poor, lazy or less intelligent because he is not doing a “stereotypically intelligent major” like STEM or business.

“It’s rather frustrating,” House said. “I feel like I am a smart person. I feel like I can talk about anything with people.”

House said he will talk stocks with one friend and black holes with another.

“I feel like I’ve tried to educate myself on a lot of different things,” House said. “There are just these stereotypes that people have of who I am. It’s frustrating, especially when they assume education is what women do.”

These stereotypes, however, hold no water in the eyes of Nathan Seamons, a music education professor and House’s faculty advisor.

“I think that’s all hogwash,” Seamons said. “To say that music education is a lesser-than career choice … that’s folly.”

Seamons said he went through the program at BYU and faced what House is facing decades ago. People’s perceptions can change but the fundamental truth of education as a solid career choice is unchanging for him.

“Some of the greatest and smartest people that I’ve ever known have been educators,” Seamons said.

Seamons quickly put the record straight on gender norms in the major, saying how the program is female-dominated, but in the band world, it is the opposite. 

“The fact that you’re asking the question is showing a systemic problem in our society that doesn’t value teaching in the way they should be,” Seamons said.

Although House finds the often false stereotypes frustrating, in the end, they help him find authentic people to be friends with.

“Nobody needs a music teacher friend on retention,” House said.

House said people that he may not want in his life tend to self-select out of it, leaving only relationships with those who build him up and teach him things.

Becoming a music teacher was not House’s plan when he started college. In fact, growing up, he wanted to be an ophthalmologist.

“Even within medicine, ophthalmology is very well respected and very lucrative,” House said.

But a series of experiences during his freshman year turned him to music education.

“I had signed up for Chem 105,” House said. “And when I pulled out the textbook, and I read one page, I was like, ‘I really don’t want to read this.'”

House said he realized that if he did not want to read chemistry as a brand new freshman, he probably would not want to read it halfway through the semester, or take organic chemistry the following year either.

“I just knew instantly in that moment that … this is just not gonna work for me,” House said.

House knew he liked the French horn, and that he was good at it, but he said he did not think he was good enough for BYU. He decided to try out for one of the bands anyway.

“I went to go audition, and there were no time slots left available,” House said. He thought the decision was made for him.

He went to a devotional where President Worthen told the story of Sheri Dew wanting to try out for the basketball team, getting cold feet, and finding out years later that the team was one player short the year she stopped in front of that door.

House said he felt like the story was meant for him so he went back and found additional time slots to audition.

During his audition, the professor told him, “If you wanted to be a music major and be on scholarship right now, you totally could.”

House did not think much of it until he got an impression as he was walking one day to go audition for the School of Music. He heard it three times.

“It’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever heard the voice of the Spirit, like audibly heard a voice,” House said.

Even after he auditioned and was accepted, House still was not sold on the idea until he had an experience with his mission preparations professor.

“He asked me, ‘If you chose not to be a doctor, who would take your place?'” House said. He told the professor that there were a lot of people who would be great doctors.

Then the professor asked him to think about if he did not become a music teacher, who would take his place?

“No one,” House said. “That was another one of the moments that really pushed me to really reconsider some things.”

House’s mentor teacher, Brian Parker at Lehi High School, said he has enjoyed working with House and seeing him grow.

“He’s very social and good with the kids,” Parker said. “Kids inherently like him.”

Parker also said House’s enthusiasm for the work is contagious.

“One of the greatest things he’s taught me is he’s helped me to have a renewed energy for youth,” Parker said.

Like Parker, House said his reason for choosing music has everything to do with the kids.

During marching band season, House works for 55-70 hours a week just student teaching and said it can get really draining.

“I remind myself frequently about why I’m doing what I’m doing,” House said. “It’s all about the kids.” It is his interactions with kids who need help that have taught him that he made the right choice and he is where he is supposed to be.

“I am capable of more than I think I am, and the kids are capable of more than they think they can do,” House said.

House said he learns from each and every one of them, and he loves them all.

“Kids have unique struggles that even I didn’t have, and yet they still show up ready to learn and to push themselves,” House said.

House said the knowledge that kids trust him can be a burden, but it is a big part of why he chose this path. “Every kid needs a safe space, and I want to be able to provide that,” House said.

While House and Seamons both advocate for breaking down music education stereotypes, House faces the future of his career path with the joy his teaching brings him.

“I couldn’t care less what people think about me because I’m able to help kids become better human beings,” House said.

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